The morning of January 19th, in honor of Martin Luther King day, Reverend C.T. Vivian, a friend and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, spoke to a large crowd about his experiences and beliefs about the Civil Rights movement. The Reverend stayed to answer questions until 11:30 am and helping Gustavus students to understand how to demonstrate the most important qualities of the civil rights movement including love, truth, faith and action.
President Jack Ohle introduced Vivian aptly when he described him as “someone who has transformed the way we think about civil rights.” Vivian spoke about King’s life giving unique perspective and insight into his beliefs as well as the times that lead up to the Civil Rights movement.
“I lived and worked with Martin,” Vivian said, “and I have come to notice… that we don’t speak of what his doctorate was in, a doctorate of philosophical theology.”
Vivian expanded upon the fact that it was Dr. King’s faith in the bible that directed him to the most effectual mode of combat, non-violent direct action.
In the years just preceding King’s arrival on the scene for Civil Rights, the fight for equality was reaching a fevered pitch. “There were two movements going on [at the time of Dr. King],” Vivian said, “one [tried to achieve equality] by any means necessary,” translating to violence to reach their goal.
King, however, preached a path of love, forgiveness, and truth. “Martin lead a moral movement,” Vivian said, “we loved people that didn’t love us: nobody did that.” Director of the Diversity Center, Virgil Jones agreed that he found, “The importance of love: genuine love and unconditional love,” to be among the most important and striking things that Reverend Vivian spoke about.
After all, “Radical love is needed to defeat radical evil,” Vivian said.
“Can you imagine following a man who preached non-violence when outside the church there were people who killed you because you were black?” Vivian asked. “Here was a man who told you to forgive [when his] house had been bombed and his new born baby, just a few weeks old, almost killed.”
The approach of non-violent direct action was essential to King as it correlated directly in his belief in the Bible. Thus the religion that he professed, he tried his utmost to embody in practice. “He emphasized who we are, not who we say we are,” Vivian said.
“In my peace studies classes we discuss Gandhi and King [of which] were in some way motivated and sustained by their faith. King’s religious identity was very important, though we often celebrate his accomplishments in a purely secular sense. But I think that faith and tradition could be harnessed and developed as an individual when supported by loving community in a way [that could be effectual and constructive],” Associate Professor of Peace Studies and Political Science Mimi Gerstbauer said.
Vivian encouraged America as a nation, as well each individual on campus to act as they say that they believe, to follow a path of personal truth. Jones, in accordance with Vivian, said that, here on the Gustavus campus “if we are going to be a community, we have to take the bible, the constitution, [and then] it’s our mission to question who we are. And most importantly are we being who we say we are, that’s what I think students have to ask themselves.”
Even Vivian, who seemed to personify optimism and energy, admitted that doubt was inevitable and natural at some points, yet said, “people are better than you think, and are willing to endure more than you think to try and live what is in their hearts and what is in their heads.”
Love, truth, and faith, however, do little good unless they are acted upon. Those who contributed to the Civil Rights movement believed firmly in their cause and no action was too small or unimportant to go unnoticed. Speaking out, in whatever capacity, is a catalyst for change.
Thinking that one is just too small to make a change is merely “one way of ducking the issue,” Vivian said, “if you get prepared, there is nothing you cannot do—nothing stopped Martin from getting what he needed… wherever you go—get ready to answer the questions of tomorrow.”
Historically we are all standing on the shoulders of others of other people,” Jones said, “If there had been no Dr. Martin Luther King there would have been no Jesse Jackson, and regardless of whether or not he lost, there would never have been an Obama…its not about winning- its about always trying to win because we learn a lot from our failures.
Vivian also encouraged students working towards preventing the current catastrophes like poverty and war, referencing the millions suffereing in Haiti.
“I found Reverend Vivian to be extremely inspiring,” Junior English major Lindsay Lelivelt, “he presented the idea of change as something possible.”
However, it does not matter what particular issue one chooses to attack, how small they feel they are, or what their circumstances may be, Vivian incited all to find away to make a change for “for if you love the world, you will find a way.”